HOMETOWN: Essex, NY | HOME BASE: Burlington, VT
Hi, I’m Neely Fortune and I am an endurance athlete.
It feels a little bit surreal to call myself that, because growing up I was never really athletic. Not because I didn’t have the capability to be athletic, but because I was always told, by coaches, teachers, pop culture, and myself, that I was not an athlete. Coaches told me that I didn’t have the body type to be a runner (I believe “too much girth” was the exact quote.) Teachers told me that I lacked the discipline. Pop culture told me that I could either be feminine or an athlete, not both. I told myself they were right.
Growing up, I had always thought that to be happy and seem interesting to others I needed to find my one true identity, my one label, and build myself around it. I had always enjoyed being “feminine,” i.e. makeup and fashion and pink, so that was the reality I embraced. But I soon discovered other passions: backpacking, running, the outdoors. Most of which are the polar opposite of the “feminine” persona I thought I needed to embody in order to be happy and well liked. Because you can’t wear pink in the woods; you can’t wear lipstick during a race; you can’t like high heels and hiking boots… right?
When my life took some unexpected turns, I was faced with the harsh reality of how short this life really is. I was left wondering why I was putting so much energy into not being happy. Why I was trying to force myself into a box that I clearly did not fit into. I didn’t know it at the time, but the scientist in me decided to devise an experiment: what if rather that choosing one label, I chose them all. And not just a pinch of this and a dash of that, what if I really pursued all of my passions to the fullest? So, in the fall of 2014 I ran my first ultramarathon and entered my first pageant.
In the last three years I have run over 50 endurance races including the Leadville 100, competed in six pageants including Miss USA, and summited 40 peaks, including ones in Chilean Patagonia. I think what really makes me Darn Tough is my passion for challenging stigmas and stereotypes. I want to empower women to embrace themselves entirely and to make their own definition of what femininity is. Never let anyone tell you who you are, and never let anyone tell you what you can’t do.
I am Neely Fortune. I am an outdoor educator, wildlife biologist, and survival skills expert. I am Miss Vermont USA 2016. I am a race director and an ultramarathon runner. I am Darn Tough.